Language At 3 Predicts 3rd Grade Depression Risk by Nathan Hurst-Missouri

The level of language skills young children possess early in life can predict their likelihood of experiencing depression later, a new study suggests.

Childhood depression can lead to social, emotional, and academic setbacks during childhood and later in life. Until now, though, little has been known about what contributes to a child’s developing depressive symptoms.

Children who experience low levels of language learning stimulation beginning at three years of age are more likely to experience language delays by first grade and are three times more likely to develop depression by third grade, says Keith Herman, a professor in the College of Education at the University of Missouri.

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Childhood Depression
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Childhood Depression

“It is clear that the amount of language that children are exposed to early on is very important for their development. Whether it is through preschool classes, interactions with parents and siblings, or through consuming media such as television and books, exposure to greater amounts of language and vocabulary will help prepare children to succeed socially and academically when they begin school.

“If children already are experiencing language and subsequent social and academic deficits by the first grade, chances are they will continue to fall further behind in school each year, which can lead to negative self-perceptions and depressive symptoms by third grade.”

For the study, published in Prevention Science, researchers examined data from 587 children and households in Hawaii. The data included children’s language skills and exposure to language stimulation in the home beginning at age three. The children were tested on their language skills in the first grade and then tested for depressive symptoms in the third grade. Children who had higher language exposure and stimulation as three-year-olds were more likely to have adequate to better-than-average language skills in first grade.

Depression changes gray matter in young brain

They also were much less likely to experience depression by the third grade. Children who did not receive adequate language stimulation early in life were much more likely to have poor language skills and ultimately experience depression.

“These findings are important because we have been able to identify key stages of child development that can help determine the mental health of children later in their academic careers,” Herman says. “By understanding that the amount of language a child is exposed to early in life is important, we can create interventions and programs that can help parents and childcare providers improve language exposure during this critical development age.

Also, we can identify first graders who may lack language skills and give them extra attention to help catch them up academically and socially before they develop depression.”

Source: University of Missouri

Original Study DOI: 10.1007/s11121-016-0647-2